Guyanese authorities have allocated US$ 201 million to update the South American country's military equipment as tensions with Venezuela over the oil-rich Essequibo mount. Helicopters, maritime surveillance vessels, and at least one drone will be acquired, President Irfaan Ali announced. Ali said his government would focus on technology items for the Guyana Defense Force (GDF) and on cooperation with allied countries.
There will be, based on our assessment, some reorientation and reorganization in the way we do our work and accomplish our tasks, Ali said Thursday at the opening of the 2024 Annual Officers' Conference. He acknowledged that the GDF's restructuring plan will include reviving the different levels of assistance with the types of assets they will invest in, as well as structural changes.
US Presidential Advisor Jon Finer, who was in Guyana earlier this month, said that both countries were deeply cooperating to assist the South American country in preserving its borders. In addition to the United States, France, and the United Kingdom have also raised their defense cooperation to Guyana, which is in a territorial dispute with Venezuela over the Essequibo region.
Venezuela maintains that the 160,000 km2 Essequibo is part of its territory although it has been in the hands of Guyana since the late 1800s. Ali assured that his country was not involved in an arms war with Venezuela, which he described as its formidable neighbor to the west. Ali also acknowledged that renewing the country's defense forces does not mean overstretching our financial resources.
Tensions between Guyana and Venezuela have cooled after talks in December mediated by Brazil and Caribbean leaders. A second round of talks involving foreign ministers was held in Brazil at the end of January to prepare for an upcoming summit between Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro and Ali. At the height of tensions, the U.S. military assisted Guyana with surveillance flights, and military advisors were present to assist the Guyanese army, which is poorly equipped and has less than 5,000 troops for a country of some 800,000 inhabitants.
Venezuela maintains that the Essequibo, a 160,000 km2 region rich in natural resources and minerals, has been part of its territory since it was a colony of Spain and appeals to the 1966 Geneva Agreement before Guyana's independence from the United Kingdom, which laid the basis for a negotiated solution and annulled an 1899 award, which fixed the borders that Georgetown is asking the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to ratify.
The controversy over the Essequibo flared up in 2015 after US oil company ExxonMobil discovered large crude oil deposits in the area and escalated after the Dec. 3 referendum whereby the Venezuelan people agreed on their country's claim.